In Dialogue with Picasso
Skarstedt Gallery November 8th, 2023
Another core throughline of Picasso’s oeuvre, which became highly emphasized in the later years of his career, is his loose and intentionally unsophisticated style. This is particularly apparent in Homme (Man) (August 16, 1971), where bulbous mounds stand in for hands, and a simple square demarcates the torso. Painted shortly before his ninetieth birthday, Homme (Man) belongs to a series of five paintings espousing the theme of the Three Ages of Man: childhood, adulthood, and old age. Seen as a whole, Picasso’s late work perhaps best illustrates the sincere return to childhood that so often marks the process of aging, and reveals the master’s deep-seated fear of his own mortality. This “primitive” style has defined numerous artistic oeuvres and movements since, seen here in the work of Georg Baselitz, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol. Appropriating directly from Picasso, Warhol’s Head (After Picasso) (1985) updates Picasso’s appropriation of African masks to speak to Warhol’s own fear of death, and to pay homage to his predecessor as he reckoned with his place in the pantheon of greats. Painted during a stint on the Italian Riviera, Baselitz’s Gartenzaun (1988), with its childlike rendering of the titular garden fence and inverted red house, takes its inspiration from Picasso’s earlier Cubist paintings made in the village of Horta de Sant Joan. Combining the interplay of Picasso’s pictures, his view of the sea from his studio, and his childhood remembrances of house facades that resembled faces, Gartenzaun is at once a nod to the Cubist flattening of space and an acknowledgment of the innocent memories of childhood that remain throughout one’s life. Basquiat, on the other hand, uses the immediacy of Picasso’s style to make a critical reappropriation of the appropriator, imbuing his short, simplistic strokes with a deep understanding of the nuances of race and oppression in America, reclaiming that which Picasso made his own through the act of updating it for a contemporary audience, exemplified in Untitled (Man with Hat) (1982).
Of course, Picasso’s style went through numerous iterations in his long career, and each has, in its own way, proved fodder for contemporary successors. Anchoring this is Picasso’s Femme (Woman) (January 26, 1972), a work that maintains a simplicity and immediacy of form by keeping only the necessary defining features of her figure. At the same time, there is a stateliness to her presence that echoes his earlier Neo-classical period. In this vein, Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Portrait (1979), painted only three years after Picasso’s death, fractures the face of his friend, Henrietta Moraes, in three Cubist-like moments frozen in time. Painted in Paris in the aftermath of his lover, George Dyer’s, suicide, there is a ghostly quality to the work that is echoed in Picasso’s late paintings. Throughout his career, Martin Kippenberger pulled both directly and indirectly from Picasso, forming a crude style that speaks to the hilarity of the macho mythification of the artist—an idea he directly challenges in his near-grotesque depiction of himself in Ohne Titel (aus der Serie Hand Painted Pictures) (1992). Similarly, George Condo’s Standing Female Figure (1993) has subsumed both Picasso’s style and subject matter as part of his “fake Old Masters,” using the artist’s aesthetic calling cards to draw the viewer in, only to reveal itself to be a contemporary creation that highlights qualities of authorship, the alter ego as archetype, and the role of portraiture in art history. In a contemporary vein, Louis Fratino suffuses Picasso’s Neo-classical style with tender remembrances and quotidian moments filtered through the queer experience in paintings such as Mom Reading a Newspaper (2018).
Picasso’s position within the canon inherently opens up conversations of value, legacy, and the performative—themes deftly tackled in this exhibition by artists such as Louise Lawler, Rachel Harrison, and Eric Fischl. Picasso’s Homme à la pipe (Man with a Pipe) (November 27, 1968) belongs to the artist’s series of Musketeers, his alter ego of choice in the last phase of his career. Inspired by his time revisiting old favorites, such as Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers and Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (1642), Homme à la pipe (Man with a Pipe) is a playful evocation of the artist’s younger, more vital days, when he could swashbuckle with the best of them and smoke to his heart’s content. However, it also speaks to a sense of the performative and of the value of one’s output as time goes on. This is perhaps most poignantly noted in Louise Lawler’s Women with Picasso, 1912 (1986), in which a museum curator holds the prized sculpture in mid-lecture, emphasizing the object’s inherent value and the guardrails to its access. If Lawler’s photograph underscores the aura of the object, then Fischl’s Her (2016) presents a contrasting view, as a chic collector wanders the halls of an art fair, oblivious to the impressive Picasso behind her in a manner that evokes a notable sense of loneliness and isolation. Meanwhile, Rachel Harrison cleverly pairs the tragic singer Amy Winehouse with Picasso’s lover Marie-Thérèse Walter as depicted by the artist in his 1939 painting, Marie-Thérèse Leaning on One Elbow—their juxtaposition speaking to the pathology of the “tortured” artist, the pressures of ambitious creative vision, and the negative impact this quest for public appreciation can have on both the artist and those around them.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, Picasso conducted an in-depth study of masterpieces by artists such as Eugène Delacroix, Diego Velázquez, and Édouard Manet, absorbing their compositional techniques and imbuing them with his decidedly non-traditional style. In doing so, he measured himself against their achievements, compared the strength of his imagination with their own, and assessed his position within the lineage of this host of great European painters. Well before his passing, but certainly in the fifty intervening years, artists of all stripes have taken up the same challenge with Picasso himself, creating innovative contributions to the art historical canon in the process.